Firefighting forces and emergency services were working around the clock to put out fires across the country on Thursday for a third consecutive day which continued into the night.
A state of emergency was declared in Haifa as fires erupted and spread to several areas of the city, with over a dozen neighborhoods evacuated and firefighting aircraft scrambled to help put out the flames.
One hundred firefighting vehicles were deployed to the areas affected by the conflagration in Israel's third largest city, while the same number of people were reported injured.
Fires initially broke out in the northeast of the city near the Paz Bridge, which led to vehicles and buildings also catching fire. At the same time, additional fires near the Haifa Bay and the city stadium were reported. Fire crews were dispatched to the scenes, but high winds and dry conditions caused the fires to spread.
Some 350 firefighters and Home Front Command rescue personnel in 115 fire trucks worked to put out dozens of blazes across Haifa.
Overall 100 people in Haifa were suffering from smoke inhalation by the late afternoon and evacuated to Carmel Hospital, all in light condition apart from an 80-year-old woman who was in moderate condition.
Police ordered the immediate evacuation of residents of several neighborhoods in the city, including schools, public facilities, and other buildings. Classes at Haifa University were halted on Thursday and cancelled on Friday.
In an effort to provide assistance, various cities throughout Israel undertook efforts to establish absorption centers for the vast numbers of evacuees.
So serious had the situation became that the Israel Prison Service began evacuating facilities in the Carmel Region.
In the Jerusalem area, firefighters battled flames all night in the forest while trying to protect Neve Ilan, Highway 1 and vital installations of the Israel Electric Corporation.
The spreading fire halted traffic on Route 443 at Shilat Junction and caused residents in the area to remain indoors.
Six firefighters and two helicopters were scrambled to the Maccabim area checkpoint to stop the blaze from spreading towards a shopping center in Modi'in. However, despite efforts, a brushfire broke out in the parking lot of one of the Modi'in train stations, prompting authorities to close down both stations in the city.
Meanwhile, additional fires broke out in Savyon Junction, Hadera, Kibbutz Harel near Beit Shemesh, Oranit, Yitzhar, the Rishonim Interchange, Umm al-Fahm and areas near Yuvalim and Misgav in the north of the country.
The fire in Hadera broke out at a power station when dry a brush ignited, while fires approximately 300 meters from the settlement of Yitzhar prompted residents to assist firefighters in containing the blaze.
In an effort to help Israel contain the fires cropping up throughout the country, four firefighting aircraft arrived from Cyprus and Greece, while additional aircraft evetntually arrived from Russia, Turkey, the UK, Italy and Croatia.
The four aircraft arrived with 49 crew members and include one Air Tractor from Cyprus and two Bombardiers and one Hercules from Greece. The planes are expected to enter operations immediately and are prized due to their carrying capacity.
Moreover, it was reported that a Palestinian official also offered the assistance of the Palestinian Authortit to Israel. Later, eight Palestinian firefighter vehicles escorted by the Commander of the Jenin Civil Administration made their way to Haifa to help extinguish the fires raging in the city.
The Prime Minister’s Office instructed the foreign ministry to to approach as many countries as possible and to request firefighting aircraft.
Israel also turned to the American company, Evergreen, which operates the 747 Supertanker—the largest aerial firefighter in the world with the ability to carry 94,850 liters of water. Indeed, the supertanker was brought to Israel during the Mount Carmel Forest Fires in 2010.
By the evening, Prime Minister Netanyahu confirmed that the aircraft would be landing in Israel overnight.
In Oranit, a large forest fire broke out and spread in the direction of Nirit. Residents were been evacuated from their homes and 15 teams of fire crews have been called in to help contain the blaze. According to the police, by the early evening, authorities had blocked off the entrance to the settlement and a number of buildings had caught fire.
Earlier Thursday, the Firefighting and Rescue Commission initially allowed 60 families to return to their homes in the settlement of Talmon after they were evacuated during the night. However, following additional fires breaking out, citizens were evacuated once more following assessments on the intensity of the fire and the dangers of smoke inhalation. Additional assistance is in the area and firefighters have managed to take control of the inferno.
The IDF has already activated two reserve battalions of the Home Front Command's rescue forces to assist police and firefighters.
Furthermore, in light of the situation the IDF announced that soldiers would not be returning home for the weekend.
Another fire broke out in the Druze town of Sajur next to Karmiel in northern Israel. Firefighters were deployed in the area to protect the town of Lavon. Despite the hostile topographical conditions, the firefighters worked to extinguish the roaring flames.
No injuries were immediately reported but according to the police, a number of homes were evacuated from the Arab town of Nahf while the town of Har Halutz, also located in the central Galilee in northern Israel, was fully evacuated.
In the Menashe Forests, a fire erupted in the late evening causing authorities to block off Route 6953.
Moreover, by midnight, flames still continued to engulf the Jerusalem Hills and according to a fire service spokesperson, it was spreading west threatening administration buildings of the fast train to Jerusalem.
Evidence of arson
An initial investigation by the Fire & Rescue Authority on Thursday raised suspicions that at four areas of Haifa the fire was a result of arson. Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh said some of the cases of arson were likely nationalistically motivated and that arrests have been made. The Shin Bet was aiding the police in investigating the suspicions of nationalistically-motivated arson, while Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan instructed the police to monitor social media in an effort to identify those inciting arson.
“We need to prepare for a new type of terror,” he said on Thursday evening. “The terrorism of arsonist, which also comes from incitement on social media networks. We will be opening a special unit of investigation into the incidents.”
Ran Shalf, the head of the Fire & Rescue Authority's investigations department, said that 60-70 percent of the cases were arson while the rest were a result of negligence. "We're investigating ... there are cases, like in Dolev, where we see it's arson. There's physical evidence."
Thursday's weather is not expected to improve, as dry conditions and high winds make for a dangerous combination when it comes to brushfires. Furthermore, the extreme dry conditions are also prompting forecasters to speculate on possible dust storms.